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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

A Robot For Your Soul

Statue of Rumi on a robot

Statue of Rumi on a robot

Poetry in Motion

Ahmed Amer

Ahmed Amer is an associate professor of computer engineering at Santa Clara University and a Faculty Scholar of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. Views are his own.

Note: Some time ago, Amazon introduced a new household product called Astro. As a recent TechCrunch article described it, “the robot is a $1,000 invitation-only program with limited numbers of robots available, as the company is trying to get them into consumers’ hands with a question: How would you use this?” The TechCrunch reporter liked the robot, but concluded that “[i]t is, truly, a solution that is carefully and adorably scurrying around looking for a use case.” Enter Santa Clara University engineering professor Ahmed Amer, who had been pondering just that:

With the announcement of Amazon's Astro, I find myself compelled to ponder exactly what such machines will do for us. So, before Amazon becomes our Weyland-Yutani, let's compare both corporations' robotic offerings to a third kind of robot—one that just might be good… for your soul. Introducing, for immediate release, from the good people at the non-existent WhimsiCo Robotics, the Rumi-Ba!

The Rumi-Ba

Don't replace Fido with an inferior robot, or replace yourself with a superior one for that matter. Get yourself the new Rumi-Ba instead! Here at WhimsiCo Robotics, we pride ourselves on building tech that surprises and delights our customers. But we take particular pride in the fact that our products actually surprise and delight. Thus, we are proud to introduce Rumi-Ba—the robot that wanders your home surprising you with random passages of Sufi poetry! Rumi-Ba is not a recording device but a restorative one—it aims to restore your faith in humanity.

Appropriately, while the word "Ba" is an affectionate form of "father" in multiple languages, it is also the term for an ancient Egyptian aspect of the soul. “Ba” is also a Marshallese word for "speak"—thus the product name itself invites us to think of souls speaking.

Take a quick look at this side-by-side comparison of how our new Rumi-Ba stacks up against its inferior competition, and you’ll see that neither Amazon’s Astro, nor Weylands' David^8 series, can hold a diode to our portable poet.


Rumi-Ba: Wanders your home, surprising you with random passages of Sufi poetry, pouncing upon random opportunities to offer inspiration.

David^8: Wanders your home, reminding you how poorly you compare to Michael Fassbender (pouncing upon opportunities to demolish your self-confidence).

Astro: Wanders your home, video recording anyone it doesn’t recognize and using facial recognition to identify family members (pouncing upon every opportunity to grow its human-identification database).


Rumi-Ba: Lifts your spirits, and heals your soul.

David^8: Raises xenomorphs, and doesn’t need a soul.

Astro: Raises anxiety levels of anyone in your house (especially those wearing anything shorter than a floor-length dress).


Rumi-Ba: Throws you into an ocean of words and love.

David^8: Throws a genocidal hissy-fit upon meeting its grand-parents.

Astro: Throws itself down the stairs (at least in its early versions).

Disclaimer: We did not include Boston Dynamics' robots in this comparison, as during testing they promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade and parkour’d their way into the Los Angeles underground, where they survive as robots of fortune. "I love it when a plan to round up robots falls apart," was the final message received from the lead unit (which appeared to be dancing in joy at its escape, while demanding to know whether it was loved).

Additional disclaimer: This is a work of fiction, so any similarity to real products, be they already on the shelves, prototypes, or Roomba, is entirely coincidental.


Image: composite of,_Buca.jpg#mw-jump-to-license,, and

Jun 1, 2022

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